Wiltshire is a rare mix of ancient, medieval and modern - often all within a few metres. Spend some time discovering its wonderful towns and cities.
Far from being a sleepy country town, Salisbury is a thriving city crowned by an incredible cathedral and surrounded by the picturesque English countryside. As well as being convenient for Stonehenge, it's handy to the coast and New Forest and is the ideal base for your cottage stay in Wiltshire. The shopping is pretty fantastic. Mixed in with the standard high street names is a huge choice of independent boutiques, shops, and cafes. Don't miss the cathedral which is not only spectacular in its own right, but houses one of four original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta, has Britain's tallest spire, and is home to the nation's oldest clock. Salisbury also has a museum showcasing thousands of years of history of the area.
Bradford on Avon
The River Avon flows through some of the prettiest towns in England, including Bradford on Avon. Bradford wears its history well, with pretty Georgian and Victorian buildings sitting beside Saxon foundations on Roman Roads. It's a top choice for a leisurely morning or afternoon out with rows of nice shops punctuated with cafes and pubs. Fat Fowl is a favourite with locals because of the efficient service and quality of food - most of which comes from within Wiltshire itself. It's very family friendly, but because the family area is upstairs, it's still a peaceful place for those who don't want to eat to the sounds of children.
Bradford is relaxed and interesting rather than exciting and vibrant. The Saxon Church and Tithe Barn appeal to those who like a sense of history, and a stroll along the river or through the garden at Iford Manor is a pleasant way to pass the time.
The busy market town of Marlborough has been attracting visitors to its cobbled streets for centuries. There is a busy market on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the High Street selling a good mix of local produce and handicrafts. Marlborough is particularly pleasant if you like antiques and curios as there are numerous shops selling both good quality examples and inexpensive collectables. Make time to book a tour of the Merchant's House if you can. They run regularly from April to October, but it is sometimes possible to book them out of season if you ask.
Marlborough is very much a country town with strong equestrian roots. Barbury International Horse Trials have been held there for years and is always a fun day out even if you've never sat in a saddle.
Devizes is another lovely market town that is as relevant to the area around it today as it always has been. If you want to see what it was like for past residents, then stop by the museum which boasts an impressive collection of Bronze Age artefacts. To the north of the town is Roundway Down. Today it looks like nothing more than rolling fields but on 13 July 1643 it was the site of thousands of deaths in a pivotal battle of the Civil War, and there is also an Iron Age hill fort there.
If you're feeling energetic, walk along the Caen Hill Locks. The two-mile walk takes in 29 locks and a rise of nearly 240 feet. It will impress you with its engineering and challenge anyone's belief that canals are flat! Devizes is at the top of the hill, but there is a cafe half way if you want to rest and watch the canal boats navigate the waterway.
For a real sense of Wiltshire beauty, go to Corsham. This picturesque town was one of the filming locations for the BBC production of Poldark, and it looks even better in real life. One of the best features is Corsham Court - a stately home in the middle of town, populated by peacocks which roam freely through the Capability Brown gardens. It's a lovely place to walk around at any time of year (as long as it's not raining too heavily). Corsham Court's peacocks tend to wander around town as well, so don't be surprised if you see them in parks, on pavements, or even on rooftops.
Corsham's High Street looks remarkably like a film set, but none of it is staged. The cobbled pavements are lined with honey-coloured Bath stone buildings, some of which date back nearly 400 years, and there is an excellent array of independent shops and cafes. If you can, time your visit for Tuesday, when the weekly market runs between 8am and 3pm on the High Street.
Wiltshire White Horses
Hillside carvings are not unique to Wiltshire, but there are more here than in any other part of Britain thanks to the chalky hills and downs. Wiltshire has eight white horses. The oldest is on Westbury Hill and dates from 1778, and the newest is on Roundway Hill in Devizes and was created in 1999 to celebrate the millennium. Others are in Cherhill, Marlborough, Alton Barnes, Hackpen, Broad Town, and Pewsey.
The Westbury Horse is one of the easiest to see. Just take the B3098 east of Westbury and you'll find a car park with great views. The Wiltshire White Horses website has details of all the horses and the best vantage points so you can work them into your route as you drive around.
Stonehenge is not the only mysterious ancient circle in Wiltshire. Avebury has been awarded World Heritage status for its Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments, including the largest stone circle in Britain. No one knows the purpose behind the henge, but its size and construction indicate it was more important in its day than Stonehenge. Avebury may not carry the same tourism cachet as Stonehenge, but it is free to visit and equally fascinating.